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Rediscovering Life: Chulpan Khamatova’s Resilience in Riga

Chulpan Khamatova vividly recalls the day in February 2022 when Russia launched its attack on Ukraine, plunging her life into uncertainty. While vacationing in Seychelles with her youngest daughter, taking a break from her performances in Moscow’s adaptation of Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita, she had planned to swim with turtles on February 24. However, as she rode in a cab to the boat, a glance at her cell phone filled her with dread: Vladimir Putin had initiated the invasion of Ukraine, leading to bombings in Kyiv and other major cities.

The 45-year-old acclaimed Russian actress, renowned for her work in both theater and cinema with multiple awards to her name, was left reeling. “My hands trembled,” she recounted. “Thoughts of my friends in Ukraine, my daughters in Moscow, and my country’s disregard for international norms flooded my mind, along with the monstrous actions of Putin. It was a nightmare!”

Reflecting on her previous conversations with friends—writers, actors, and filmmakers—she pondered how she could have underestimated the looming war. While some had warned, “Putin is unpredictable. He is capable of the worst,” others, including herself, had believed, “No, that would be self-destructive. It would isolate Russia and undermine its credibility.” Yet, it had happened. While her daughter and fellow tourists prepared to swim in the Seychelles lagoon, her focus remained on her phone, mentally miles away. “I couldn’t process. My mind was in chaos. What lay ahead for us? Putin had obliterated our future, and I felt my life crumbling.”

On the boat, unnoticed by others, the fragile blonde figure, visibly distressed, was none other than one of Russia’s most celebrated actresses, renowned for her role in Good Bye Lenin! (2003) directed by Wolfgang Becker. Immersed in her phone, she swiftly consented to signing petitions denouncing the war, including one by her journalist friend Dmitry Muratov, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. She urgently reached out to colleagues and friends, urging them to take a stand. Altering her travel plans was imperative.

With a week of vacation remaining, she resolved not to return to Moscow. Instead, she opted for Latvia, where she had a secluded retreat—a modest house nestled in the woods. “It served as a backup plan, in case things went awry in Russia. I had visited occasionally, but now it was a necessity.” Securing Moscow-Riga tickets for her two older daughters, aged 19 and 20, became her priority. “Uniting us was paramount. The details could wait.” Consequently, armed with essentials like sandals and swimsuits, Khamatova landed in Riga two days later, greeted by -18°C weather.